Push hard! You're making three copies!

December 09, 1993|By James Lileks

EN ROUTE to the White House, Bill Clinton promised us he'd end welfare as we know it. This doesn't really say much. Dr. Jack Kevorkian could say the same thing; none of his clients ever show up clamoring for a government check.

You have to ask for details -- specific goals, specific policies. As in, "Two years and you're out." (Or, in the case of Dr. Kevorkian, two whiffs and you're out.)

Will Dr. Bill put the mask over the face of the welfare state, and ease it into dreamless oblivion? Let's consider the problem.

Right now, it appears that we spend vast sums of public money on people whose main job in life seems to be converting tax dollars into infants. You suspect that reform will consist of setting up caseworker offices in delivery rooms, the better to expedite the paperwork for more benefits.

PUSH HARD! shouts the doctor. YOU'RE MAKING THREE COPIES! shouts the caseworker.

Mind you, welfare mothers don't have babies to get more money. They have an entirely different set of bogus reasons: the desire to have something cute to dress up; the need to have a fresher infant than the other members of their social circle; the need to have someone who will love them as only someone who is preverbal, confused, hungry and unable to roll over can love. Welfare is not the reason.

But welfare abets illegitimacy. Since welfare helped bring on the problem, politicians believe welfare reform can stop it.

By removing the immediate financial and social penalties of having a kid without husband or job, we get plenty of single unemployed mothers. Surprise! Who could have seen that coming? As a consequence, we've created a substratum of society that bangs out the infants with the regularity and precision of a nail gun, because poverty and single motherhood is all they've ever known.

At night the family gathers around Grandma, age 37, as she rocks in her chair and tells of the pioneer days when they had to walk to the bank to deposit their welfare check. No direct deposit in those days, no sir.

This must stop. The money spent -- $29 billion a year on teen-age pregnancy, according to NBC -- is bad enough, but the social cost is ruinous. There're a lot of cold-eyed young men out there who figure that their daddy didn't care for them, aside from dropping off the occasional pack of Pampers when their friends weren't looking. Their daddies didn't care about them and they don't care about much of anything, either, including you or me.

Since welfare helped bring on the problem, politicians believe welfare reform can stop it. As noted, the Clinton administration has given us two years and out, which means that welfare recipients will be required to find a job or get one provided by the government. Now there's a powerful threat!

These ideas are what you might expect from the people who

erected this creaky building in the first place -- solemn tinkering with the doorknobs and hinges and fresh paint on the stoop while the falling timbers thunder down around them. But the welfare advocates can't admit the system is fatally flawed; to them, it is always one more subcommittee meeting away from perfectibility. If they make concerned faces at the press conference, things will change.

And if they don't? Tinker some more. Get into a lather, rinse, repeat.

Or, abolish welfare, now.

But what about the children? Good point. Tough point. Sociologist Charles Murray has suggested that welfare-dependent mothers should relinquish their children to orphanages, funded unstintingly by the state. From this some recoil in horror: Orphanages! Good Lord! This would mean sending the child to a stable environment full of compassionate adults, instead of letting it live with the poor, ill-educated, jobless teen-ager who brought it into the world out of boredom and ignorance.

What sort of a monster would think of such a thing?

James Lileks is a columnist for Newhouse News Service.

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